‘A shocking and wholesale disregard for the environment.’
Mr. Justice Jeremy Johnson (9th July 2021)
In 2021, Mr. Justice Jeremy Johnson oversaw the 2021 case which saw Southern Water fined a record £90 million for dumping approximately 16-21 billion litres of raw sewage into protected waters over a six-year period. This case was the culmination of the Environment Agency’s largest ever investigation which, in its own words, uncovered ‘very serious widespread criminality’.
In 2019, the 21,462 pumping stations and CSOs (Combined Sewage Overflows) spread throughout England and Wales discharged raw sewage into rivers and seas for 1.5 million hours.
CSOs are not, in fact, illegal – and even environmental campaigners concede they are an important cog in the wastewater network. Their application however, is more opaque, open to abuse, and encapsulates the profit-led ethos of today’s privatised water companies.
By documenting the location and environmental impact of these CSOs in Mark’s home county of West Sussex, Mark O’Halleron wants to tell a story of neglect, ignorance and illegality.
Using a combination of photography and text, Mark’s project explores the threats posed to the coastline and rivers resulting from our failure to deal with raw sewage. Rooted in citizen science and citizen journalism, the aim is to increase awareness of these risks, to stimulate debate and to foster collaboration between himself and both local and national action groups.
Neglect comes in the form of a hopelessly outdated, under-invested sewage system, while ignorance – on the part of water companies at least – is often wilful. As to illegality, Mark lives in the heartland of Southern Water (profits of £213m in 2019), one of the most infamous serial offenders.
His main resource for the project was a sewage map created by The Rivers Trust which records the location of CSOs and associated spill data. This allowed him to identify the sites which he visited repeatedly at different parts of the day between December 2021 and February 2022. All photographs were made in the immediate vicinity of the outflow pipes of these CSOs.
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